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THIS IS WHAT WE DO IN FEBRUARY...
By Joe Brancatelli
Massive mid-February blizzards in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England shouldn't surprise anyone, especially frequent business travelers. After all, more years than not offer up some kind of winter whack. We'll know soon whether the Weather Channel-named Winter Storm Nemo will just be a run-of-the-mill February annoyance or one of those once-a-decade nightmares. And, yes, this is when it's okay to wish you'd cashed miles for a trip to Florida or Hawaii. Here is how we've covered things. Like a blog, a Pinter play or the odd episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.
2/9/13, 7:45PM ET, SATURDAY
A LONG, SLOW SLOG TO NORMAL
The good news: The major New York area airports (JFK, LGA, EWR) have bounced back very quickly. Operations should be near-normal tomorrow. But most airport hotels are sold out and seats are tight. (Availability, I mean. Coach seats are always tight.)
New England? Not so much. Boston/Logan, which got whacked with about 29 inches of snow, hopes that it can get a runway open by 11pm tonight. That'll mean some operations tomorrow, but expect massive cancellations and delays.
A point here: Whenever there's a big storm, Boston/Logan and Massport, the operating authority, are fond of saying "the airport is open, but check with your carrier." Well, you know, claiming the airport is open is meaningless when you don't have runways to service arrivals or departures. So between the sometimes-misleading airline information we get, we also have airports putting out mindless "we're open" claims. Not cool, Logan. Not cool.
Meanwhile, MBTA, the operating authority for most of Boston's transit services, may not have any trains or buses even tomorrow. There's certainly nothing tonight. It could be Monday morning before Boston itself resembles anything normal.
Hartford airport (BDL) resumes operations tomorrow. Portland (PWN) is getting a few arrivals tonight. But it'll be tomorrow before there are any departures. T.F. Green/Providence hopes to be ready tomorrow, too. It suffered an hours-long power outage yesterday into this morning.
Still no information on Amtrak operations, specifically the Acela Express between New York/Penn and Boston, for tomorrow. Some Northeast Regional service is running now, however.
Finally, in case you haven't been following, several places in New England received 40 inches of snow. Many others recorded snowfalls in the 30+ inches range. Some places also recorded wind gusts into the 70-80 mph range. While New York City and New Jersey did relatively okay, some locations in Central Long Island recorded 24-31 inches of snow.
Many Long Island roads are a mess. The New York City subways and buses are normal (such as normal is in New York). Most tri-state commuter rail is running some service. But there are no trains between Stamford and New Haven.
2/9/13, 10:15AM ET, SATURDAY
YES, IT WAS EPIC!
Here is an update on the travel situation in the Northeast and New England after what has been a record-breaking storm in many parts of the region. Let's concentrate on what may happen in the next day or two before we talk about what has happened.
Massachusetts is closed. Literally. An historic ban on private travel remains in effect. MBTA, which operates the bulk of the public transit in the state, says that there will be no service today. Officials at Boston/Logan say conditions got so bad in the overnight hours that they had to abandon snow-clearing operations. The airport is technically open now, but there are currently no publicly announced plans by airlines to resume service. My best guess is that it'll be very late today before anything moves. It will surely be Monday before anything like a normal schedule resumes.
And, oh, by the way: It's still snowing.
If anything, things are worse in Maine. At least 29 inches of snow has fallen on Portland International Jetport. Or as our friend, Portland-based Mister Meatball, says: It's worse than I have ever seen it in Maine. How bad? He wasn't talking food and when Mister Meatball isn't talking food, things are bad.
Connecticut isn't too much better. Governor Daniel Malloy this morning closed all roads in the state until further notice. Hartford Airport says it will update its status at noon today. If you hate ESPN, so did this storm. It dumped 38 inches on Bristol, Connecticut, ESPN's headquarters.
Upwards of 750,000 homes and businesses in New England are without power. If there's any good news, it's that there were many fewer power outages than expected.
Rhode Island, however, is very hard hit by outages and power may be out for days. Governor Lincoln Chaffee imposed a blanket travel ban in the state this morning. T.F. Green Airport in Providence is closed and there's no power. There will be no outbound flights today, although the airport claims that there will be some limited arrivals tonight.
Amtrak says there will be no Acela Express into New England today. Some limited Northeast Regional trains are scheduled to resume around noon.
The New York Metro area and New Jersey did much better. The snow has stopped and snowfalls were mostly under a foot, although some suburban areas were hit with as much as 18 inches. There are reports that there were around 30 inches in some parts of Long Island. All three major New York area airports are getting limited service now. Sunday should do a decent imitation of normal.
The Metro-North system of commuter rails is down. Some extremely limited Long Island Railroad service is running. Out in Suffolk County, Long Island, many roads are closed. The nearly mythical Long Island Expressway did play overnight host to dozens of stranded drivers and cars. Because there are always some New Yorkers who think they're smarter than the weather gods.
Several airlines--including Delta, United and JetBlue--have extended their respective travel waivers into tomorrow or Monday. Check with your airline if you don't want to fly. (And, unless you really, really need to do it, perhaps you shouldn't.)
About 1,950 flights have been cancelled so far today, according to FlightStats.com. JetBlue has cancelled more than 290, United has already dumped about 150 and American, Delta and US Airways about 120 each. Their commuter carriers have also done wholesale cancellations.
Yesterday was epic bad: nearly 3,400 cancellations and 5,300 delays. The cancellations represent about 12 percent of the nationwide system.
Nearly final thought: The Weather Channel, always the shrillest voice in the weather world, got this one right. The storm went almost exactly to its worst projections, even down to the hours when the blizzard conditions would hit in New England.
2/8/13, 10AM ET, FRIDAY
GO AWAY, WE'RE CLOSED!
The East is basically closed for flights. As of 9:45am ET, FlightStats.com reports that 3,006 flights have been cancelled nationwide and nearly 1,100 more are delayed. More than 1,100 of the cancels are at the Big Three New York Airports (LGA, JFK and EWR). Nearly 340 flights--essentially the entire schedule--have been scrubbed at Boston/Logan. More than 100 flights have been wiped away at O'Hare. And even though the Philadelphia-Washington corridor is expected to be spared, there are 70 cancels at PHL, 60 down at Dulles and 53 cancellations at National. Baltimore has 30 down. As previously reported, Boston ground transportation will end around 3:30pm and Amtrak is suspending travel north of New York in the early afternoon.
Saturday? More than 750 flights have already been cancelled nationwide, most all of them along the East Coast. Expect thousands more cancels to be announced later today.
2/7/13, 11:15PM ET, THURSDAY
THE GHOST OF AIRLINE MERGERS STILL TO COME?
Just for the record, this scary storm on Friday is supposedly going to be the result of two storms--a low front from the south and an Alberta Clipper up north--merging into one massive weather system. See, bad things always happen with mergers. Without going all Dickensian on you, I can't help but think this merged weather system is a harbinger of what'll happen if American Airlines and US Airways really do try to pull of their reverse merger in bankruptcy...
2/7/13, 11PM ET, THURSDAY
TODAY WAS BAD. TOMORROW? A TRAVEL NIGHTMARE.
As of 11pm Eastern time, FlightStats.com reports that there were 511 flight cancellations and 5,200 delays today. Things were worst at Chicago/O'Hare, where 169 flights were scrubbed and 540 more were delayed. For Friday, there are now 2,054 cancellations already recorded. More than 300 are at Newark, about 550 combined at New York/Kennedy and New York/LaGuardia and 226 at Boston's Logan Airport. So, really, avoid the East tomorrow. Take a long weekend at home.
2/7/13, 9PM ET, THURSDAY
LOGAN AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF REALITY
Officials at Boston/Logan Airport say that all airlines have cancelled their Logan schedules starting Friday afternoon and there isn't likely to be any service before Saturday afternoon. The airport is technically open, however. But if an airport is open and there are no flights to use it, can you really ... oh, forget it...
2/7/13, 7:15PM ET, THURSDAY
FRIDAY'S CANCELS ARE PILING UP
FlightStats.com just put out an alert. It says nearly 1,200 flights in the United States have already been cancelled tomorrow. About a third are at Newark and about 400 more are at New York/Kennedy and New York/LaGuardia. About 250 already scrubbed at Boston/Logan. Another 150 are already gone at Chicago/O'Hare tomorrow.
2/7/13, 6:15PM ET, THURSDAY
BOSTON PREPARES FOR A WICKED STORM
Boston is preparing for the worst, which would be a blizzard beyond the parameters of the February, 1978, storm. That's the one that dropped 27+ inches on the region. Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick wants drivers off the state's road by noon on Friday. And the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority says all Boston subway, bus and commuter-rail service will shut down at 3:30pm.
2/7/13, 5:30PM ET, THURSDAY
AMTRAK SHUTS DOWN TOMORROW AFTERNOON
Amtrak is shutting down in New York and New England on Friday, February 8. According to the railroad, southbound service out of Boston's South Station will shut down after Acela Express #2167 at 1:15pm and Northeast Regional #137 at 1:40pm. Northbound service out of New York's Penn Station will end after Northeast Regional #86 at 12:30pm and Acela Express #2160 at 1:03pm. Other services, including the Springfield Shuttle, the Vermonter and Downeaster, will also be suspended. Everything south of New York is expected to run, but do prepare for delays.
2/7/13, 4:30PM ET, THURSDAY
ALWAYS LOOK AT THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE
Okay, this is getting serious. Yesterday, they were predicting about four inches of snow and some rain for New York on Friday into Saturday. Now that's been upped to a foot of snow with no mitigating rain. In New England, where they were talking about a foot, it's up to two feet or more. They are also throwing around terminology like "historic," "monster" and "epic." Blizzard watches and warnings are now up for regions from Central New Jersey into Canada.
The only good news: The worst part of the storm may hit Friday night into Saturday morning. If so, that'll give the system most of the weekend to recover. It's not great, but, you know, it's better than the options.
2/7/13, 3:30PM ET, THURSDAY
MORE CARRRIERS POSTING TRAVEL WAIVERS
The weather geeks, including the relatively restrained folks at the National Weather Service, are beginning to frame this storm in historic terms. And that's led more carriers to post travel waivers. Here's what's new:
If you are scheduled to travel Friday or Saturday on an international flight from the Northeast, New England or Canada, check with your carrier. Lufthansa and others have also announced travel waivers. And remember: If they cancel the incoming flights on Saturday, that means you won't get out on Saturday night because there'll be no equipment to service the route.
2/6/13, 7:30PM ET, WEDNESDAY
I DON'T REMEMBER JULES VERNE WRITING THIS...
A winter storm that could drop two feet--or just two inches--of snow around the Northeast and New England is expected to start on Thursday and continue into Saturday. Chicago and Detroit are in for some rough conditions tomorrow, too.
In fairness, the weather geeks are confused about this one, with a variety of possible storm tracks offering a multiplicity of outcomes for the Northeast and New England. Some tracks--and some areas--may just get a few inches. Some tracks are predicting a more substantial accumulation, including the track that brought us Superstorm Sandy a few months ago. Interactive, county-by-county National Weather Service predictions and advice are here.
Of course, the Weather Channel and Weather.com are predicting Armageddon. Those folks have also taken to naming winter storms, the better to whip up ratings and give their on-air talent a cheap, easy moniker. This storm has been named Nemo.
All of the tracks and predictions do see snow starting Thursday evening and continuing into Saturday for areas north of Central New Jersey, north through all of New York State and New England. One part of this storm will cause some real problems tomorrow for the Chicago hubs of United, American and Southwest and the Detroit/Metro hub of Delta. Many airlines have already posted travel-waiver policies. And following recent precedent, they are niggling and restrictive, especially if the carriers are hit with heavy snowfalls and massive cancellations. They're pushing you to rebook in a window where you might face multiple cancellations because their operations are not back to normal.
Here's what has been posted so far:
Notably, Delta's travel waiver does not include Detroit/Metro. US Airways' waiver does not include Philadelphia, which is not expected to be impacted by this storm. The waivers from United, AirTran and Southwest cover Chicago tomorrow, but American's does not.
Given the confusing nature of this storm, I think it'll be well into tomorrow afternoon before airlines announce any pre-cancellations for Friday and Saturday travel.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.